Our 2018 NFL All-Pro selections for defense include a couple of stars from the Bears and a rookie linebacker. You can see our 2018 NFL All-Pro Offense here.
Edge defender: Khalil Mack, Bears
Season stats: 47 TKL | 12.5 SK | 6 FF | 1 INT | 1 TD
Chicago’s defense under Vic Fangio was set to be one of the league’s best units in 2018, but adding Khalil Mack before the season took things to another level. The former Raider made a major difference against both the run and the pass, helping form one of the best linebacking groups in the NFL with Roquan Smith, Danny Trevathan, and Leonard Floyd in the tough 3-4 scheme. Mack was a big key in the Bears having an impressive 12-win season and making the postseason for the first time since 2010.
Edge defender: Von Miller, Broncos
Season stats: 48 TKL | 14.5 SK | 4 FF | 1 INT
His team didn’t have the success they were hoping for this season, but Broncos outside linebacker Von Miller enjoyed yet another outstanding campaign. Miller’s 14.5 sacks were the second highest total of his career, and he also recorded his second career interception. The 29-year-old again showed he can take over a game on the defensive side of the ball, as he displayed in Week 1 against the Seahawks (seven tackles, three sacks, two forced fumbles) and Week 7 against the Cardinals (four tackles, two sacks, two forced fumbles).
Interior lineman: Aaron Donald, Rams
Season stats: 59 TKL | 20.5 SK | 4 FF
Aaron Donald must be a unanimous All-Pro selection after a 2018 season in which he continued to be an elite and unstoppable force on the interior while recording by far his biggest statistical output through five years in the league. Donald won NFC Defensive Player of the Month in both October and December, and he’ll likely repeat as the NFL’s Defensive Player of the Year.
Interior lineman: J.J. Watt, Texans
Season stats: 61 TKL | 16.0 SK | 7 FF
This last spot among edge and interior players is difficult, as J.J. Watt can be classified as either position and would’ve been one of the two edge players if we identified him as such. In that case, Eagles defensive tackle Fletcher Cox would have an excellent case as the second All-Pro interior defensive lineman. We’re classifying Watt as an interior defender, though, and he has to get the nod after notching 16.0 sacks with a league-leading seven forced fumbles. After a couple of years dealing with season-ending injuries, it’s great to see Watt healthy and back to his All-Pro form.
Linebacker: Luke Kuechly, Panthers
Season stats: 130 TKL | 2.0 SK | 2 FF | 1 INT
The numbers are as stellar as usual for Panthers middle linebacker Luke Kuechly, but he really stands out when you look at the impact he makes pre-snap. No other linebacker gets his teammates in the right position and calls out plays like Kuechly, who obviously puts a ton of time in studying film and tendencies of opposing offenses. Kuechly should pick up his fifth All-Pro nod this season.
Linebacker: Darius Leonard, Colts
Season stats: 163 TKL | 7.0 SK | 4 FF | 2 INT
A couple of rookies—Giants running back Saquon Barkley and Colts guard Quenton Nelson—made our 2018 NFL All-Pro Offense, and Indianapolis gets another rookie on our All-Pro Defense selections. Second-round linebacker Darius Leonard was simply a beast in his first NFL season, recording 163 tackles, seven sacks, four forced fumbles, and two interceptions while leading a Colts defense that surprised a lot of people and played as hard as any team in the league this season. Leonard’s 163 tackles by far led the NFL, and he better be named an All-Pro following a Pro Bowl snub.
Linebacker: Bobby Wagner, Seahawks
Season stats: 138 TKL | 1.0 SK | 2 FF | 1 INT | 1 TD
The Seahawks re-tooled last offseason, but Bobby Wagner remained one of the only constants, and he’s a big reason Seattle went 10-6 and return to the postseason after missing out in 2017. Wagner was clutch in his team’s Monday night win against the Vikings in Week 14, helping shut down Minnesota to get Seattle into command of a wild-card spot in the NFC; while a penalty should’ve been called, he also had a key blocked field goal in the victory. The week before, Wagner had a forced fumble and a 98-yard pick six in a win over the Niners.
Cornerback: Stephon Gilmore, Patriots
Season stats: 45 TKL | 1.0 SK | 2 INT | 20 PD
In his second season with the Patriots, Stephon Gilmore looked more comfortable in Bill Belichick’s defense after he was already solid last year. Gilmore did a better job of shadowing and limiting or taking out key players from opposing offenses—including DeAndre Hopkins, Sammy Watkins, Allen Robinson, Davante Adams, Stefon Diggs, and Antonio Brown—and he was arguably the NFL’s premier shutdown corner in 2018.
Cornerback: Byron Jones, Cowboys
Season stats: 67 TKL | 14 PD
The no interceptions might hurt Byron Jones’ All-Pro case, but he was excellent in his transition from safety to corner for the Cowboys. The former first-round pick has exceptional athleticism and explosiveness that he’s translated to the football field throughout his career, and the switch was seamless in part because of his experience playing cornerback as a senior at UConn. No. 1 wide receivers struggled against Dallas this season, and Jones is a big reason the defense played so well en route to an NFC East title.
Safety: Kevin Byard, Titans
Season stats: 90 TKL | 2.0 SK | 4 INT | 8 PD
Kevin Byard built on his 2017 All-Pro selection with another All-Pro-caliber season for the Titans this year. The third-year safety is a true all-around defender that plays at a very high level in coverage, against the run, and as a playmaker that can take the ball away from opposing offenses. Byard’s Week 15 performance against the Giants (five tackles, one sack, one interception, and a tipped pass late in the game) helped give Tennessee its first shutout since 2000.
Safety: Eddie Jackson, Bears
Season stats: 51 TKL | 1.0 SK | 6 INT | 15 PD | 2 TD
Former Alabama safety Eddie Jackson looked like a major steal for the Bears in the fourth round of the 2017 draft, and he affirmed that this season with an even better sophomore campaign than his great rookie season last year. Jackson excels in both zone coverage and man coverage, and he comes up and makes tackles despite not being relatively undersized compared to other safeties. In just his second NFL season, Jackson already might be the league’s top playmaker at his position.
Defensive back: Patrick Peterson, Cardinals
Season stats: 54 TKL | 1.0 SK | 2 INT | 5 PD
The final defensive back spot on our 2018 NFL All-Pro Defense could have gone to a few players including the Dolphins’ Xavien Howard and Bills’ Tre’Davious White, but Patrick Peterson gets the slight nod. The 28-year-old had to play more zone coverage than usual in Steve Wilks’ scheme, but he still exceled and remained a shutdown player when used in man coverage. Peterson wasn’t tested much on a weak defense, but that indicates he did his job.